First published 5 November 2023

“A startup is a lonely place. You are working on something that no one believes in, that you’ve been told time and time again will never work. It’s you against the world.” – Marc Randolph, co-founder, Netflix.

The mental health of tech founders isn’t often talked about in our ecosystem. In the early days of building, a founder is likely to be constantly travelling, bootstrapping, wearing many hats in the business, and often, neglecting themselves and forgetting to take a break. These can take a cognitive and psychological toll on them, leading to stress and anxiety, poor judgement, and a breakdown in their personal relationships.

Founders go through a lot of mental stress—imposter syndrome, doubt, and the justified need for validation from their team, investors, and customers.

Fundraising is a primary source of stress for founders | Chart by Mobolaji Adebayo, TC Insights

“I think being a founder is a lonely journey,” Dennis Mary, founder of web3 startup Yuki, told me. “Nobody seems to understand you. This includes your team and family. Being a founder can be mentally draining, especially when you face rejections from applications like Techstars, for instance. You can begin to start questioning yourself. You have to figure things out all the time. Sometimes, when there is bad news, you have to absorb it first before thinking about how to pass it on to your team.”

Ope Onaboye, CEO of e-commerce fulfilment startup Renda, said that many founders are scared of failure but would never make that struggle public. This fear of failure is further compounded by the current drought of venture capital funding, macroeconomic shocks, and worst of all, the witnessing of the shutdown of other once-promising startups. Sometimes, having no support system to lean on by way of family, friends or spouses can be disheartening, especially when they are not in the same field as the founder and therefore cannot understand what the founders are building.

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Seventy-two percent of founders have said that launching their business had a negative impact on their health, according to information obtained from data-sharing platform, Startup Snapshot. The data which sampled over 400 early-stage startup founders across the globe reported that 81% of founders are not really open about their stressors, fears and challenges, similar to what Onaboye said. Twenty-three percent are seeing a therapist, according to the aforementioned report.

It’s important that founders guard their health jealously as they solve hard problems daily. Inadequate sleep can lead to health problems like hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, and stroke. A combination of healthy food and exercise can make it easier to get the required amount of sleep required by the body to live a better quality of life. Simple exercise routines daily can give the body the much-required vitality to do its best work while avoiding terminal illness.

Founders must take breaks when they begin to experience burnouts; they must set realistic goals for their companies and not feel undue pressure to prematurely expand the business, say, regionally. Setting realistic projections to achieving success is important for tech entrepreneurs to save not just themselves but their team. A founder must not allow the business to revolve around them, their personality, or whims. The business’s operations must not cease if its founder dares to go on leave. Delegating work and getting more team members involved in the running of the business should be encouraged through open workplace communication and the documentation of progress on projects and the establishment of enduring systems for the business.

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